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Racist Democratic Empire and Atrocity Denial:
"Kerry Was Defending Our Country"

by Paul Street
September 15, 2004

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I can't take it anymore -- the racist warmongering about Vietnam paraded by Democrats in the all-too predictable absence of any willingness on their part to advance a serious peace and justice alternative to the Bush cabal. Here is a lovely, damning quote from Don Plusquellic, the presumably Democratic Mayor of Akron, Ohio, in last Sunday's New York Times: "The simple truth is John Kerry was in Vietnam. George Bush was hiding in the woods in Alabama and John Kerry was defending our country. That's the truth." (David M. Halbfinger and Richard Stevenson, "With Polls on the Move, Bush and Kerry Take Their Economic Message to Ohio," New York Times, 5 September 2004, A19)

"Defending our country," in SOUTH Vietnam, from what, dear Mayor? From the determination of the Vietnamese people North and South to expel an imperialist invader and create a measure of national independence and social justice that US foreign policy makers found inconsistent with their vision of U.S. global domination and the subordinate integrated role the Third World was assigned in that vision.

Yes if John Kerry and others hadn't been butchering South Vietnamese teenagers, shooting up South Vietnamese villages and fishing boats (and the people inside those homes and vessels) and ferrying Operation Phoenix death squad operatives from one US-terrorized Vietnamese village to another, then we cringing Americans of the 1960s would have been overrun by barbarian hordes swelling across the Pacific to overtake the glorious American Way of Life.

Nice job Mayor Plusquellic: what filthy, racist and Orwellian rot, all too consistent with the genocidal conduct of the American assault on Vietnam (south and north), which the young Kerry once had the partial honesty to describe as an elite-managed atrocity and which he now holds up as the proudest moment in his young adulthood and as crucial framing backdrop for his revolting centrist "campaign," dedicated to the notion that he is the more authentic and competent manager of empire and inequality.

Interestingly enough, Kerry's own famous 1971 testimony to the US Senate flatly refutes Plusquellic's claim - repeated by other centrist Democrats again and again - that the young Swift Boat skipper was "defending our country" on and along the Mekong River. "There is nothing in South

Vietnam," Kerry told the upper chamber..."nothing which could happen [there] that realistically threatens the United States of America." "To attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom," Kerry noted, "is to use the height of criminal hypocrisy."

"At any time that an actual threat is posed to the country or to [its] security and freedom," Kerry added, "I will be one of the first to pick up a gun and defend it." Here Kerry found the supposed "threat" to Americans posed by Vietnam to be "bogus, totally artificial," arguing that "the communists are not about to take over our McDonald's hamburger stands." "We found [that] most [Vietnamese] people," Kerry told the Senators, "only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart."*

Much the same analysis, of course, could be applied to the current US assault on Iraq and the absence of any serious Iraqi threat to Americans and their "freedom" before or since the American imperialist helicopters and bomb tore Iraq yet further apart. But Kerry and his handlers won't tell that truth, for obvious reasons relating to the Senator's imperial agenda for the Middle East and beyond.

Below I have pasted in some vignettes on US conduct in Vietnam, part of a piece I did titled "Those Who Deny the Crimes of the Past: American Racist Atrocity Denial, 1776 to the Present" (ZNet, March 11, 2004). Note the story from an Ohio newspaper. After reading Kerry's 1971 testimony, Plusquellic should call over to the Toledo Blade and ask them to put him into contact with some "Operation Tiger Force" veterans. Some of those veterans can tell him how the defense of America led to the killing of unarmed South Vietnamese noncombatants and the cutting off of Asian victims' scalps and ears to decorate American war necklaces.

The Democrats? "The Horror, the horror."

Here are the article's sub-sections on Vietnam:

May to November 1967 (with Democrats in charge of all three branches of US government): As small part of a broader U.S. invasion and occupation that killed millions of Vietnamese, an "elite" 45-man unit of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division known as "Tiger Force" conducts a murderous march through Vietnam's central highlands. A detailed and courageous four-part series published by The Toledo Blade in the fall of 2003 shows that "Tiger Force" killed an untold number - certainly well into the hundreds - of farmers, villagers, and prisoners. One medic interviewed by Blade reporters "said he counted 120 unarmed villagers killed in one month." According to left writer Mike Davis, who helped bring the Blade series to national light, "Tiger Force atrocities began with the torture and execution of prisoners in the field, then escalated to the routine slaughter of unarmed farmers, elderly people, even small children...Early on, tiger Force began scalping its victims (the scalps were dangled from the ends of M-16s) and cutting off ears as souvenirs. One member - who would later behead an infant - wore the ears as a ghoulish necklace...A former Tiger Force sergeant told reporters that 'he killed so many civilians he lost count.'" A Tiger Force private remembers thinking that the killings were "wrong" but recalls that they were considered an "acceptable practice" for US military personnel in the central-highlands' many US-designated "free fire zones," where (by a former Tiger Force Lieutenant's account) "anything living...was subject to be eliminated." The slaughter was sponsored and protected by senior officers (including one who went by the name of "Ghost Rider" and named his battalions "Barbarians," "Cutthroats" and the like) and never resulted in prosecution of any of the perpetrators, despite an extensive Pentagon investigation that was buried by the White House in 1975.

Asked why the Pentagon's post-atrocity investigation of Tiger Force never went anywhere, a leading senior office and massacre participant later recalls being summoned to the Pentagon and told that "there's wrongdoing there, and we know about it. But basically it's the best interest of this, that and the other to try to pursue this." According to this officer, the investigation "was a hot potato. See this was after My Lai [see below] and the army certainly didn't want to go through the publicity thing." Former Watergate perpetrator and chief White House counsel (under Nixon) John Dean told the Blade that he was not surprised the investigation was dropped since "the government doesn't like ugly stories."

Neither apparently does today's supposedly "left-leaning" mainstream press, which refuses to pick up and meaningfully disseminate the shocking Blade findings. The great "liberal" New York Times prefers to prattle on page one about the "controversial" nature of Kerry's 1971 testimony, leaving cutting-edge investigation into what really happened in Vietnam to a relatively small paper in the "conservative" Midwest.

1968: My Lai, the mother of all officially recognized modern U.S. atrocities: 347 unarmed Vietnam civilians, including 12 babies, are slaughtered in the hamlet at Song My by a company of the U.S. Army 23rd ("Americal") Division. While belated U.S. media attention focuses in 1969 and 1970 on the company's deranged commander (Lieutenant William Calley) and treats the incident as an anomaly within the broader benevolent (if occasionally clumsy) conduct of US policy, the massacre provides what Ward Churchill calls "a lens through which to examine the de-facto rules of engagement under which U.S. ground forces operated for nearly 7 years (1965-1972). Known as the 'Dead Gook Rule" - that is, if a corpse is Vietnamese it is counted as a slain 'enemy combatant' on that basis alone - it points to a process of unremitting massacre, both large-scale and small, of the civilian population.... More than a score of such operations during the course of the U.S. 'commitment,' and this is not even to begin to count the toll taken by such routine measures as the declaration of whole swaths of the country to be 'free-fire zones,' in which anything that moved could be killed with impunity." (Churchill, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, 2003,pp. 140-141). Colonel Oran Henderson (who shared the duty of covering up the My Lai killings with an up-and-coming military bureaucrat named Colin Powell), noted in 1971 that "every unit of brigade size" that "served" in Vietnam "has its My Lai hidden someplace" (Howard Zinn, The Twentieth Century: A People's History, 1988, p.226).

1969: Future US Senator (D-Nebraska) and current president of New York City's New School University Bob Kerry joins other Navy SEALS in the massacre of a score of unarmed villagers, mainly women and children. He later says it's "pretty close to being right" to call this massacre "an atrocity."

* Special thanks to the e-mailer named "insertclevernamehere" for pointing me to young Kerry's testimony.

Paul Street is a writer and researcher in Chicago, IL. His new book, Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm Publishers, 2004) will be available in late September 2004. He can be reached at

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